Verses from Surah Al-Anfal (9 -18)

[9] When you were beseeching your Lord,24  He responded to you, `I shall extend help unto you with a thousand angels,25 (coming down) in succession.’ 


24. `Umar (ra) is reported to have said: “When the Prophet (saws) looked at the Quraysh and their numbers comparing them with his outnumbered followers, he turned toward the Qiblah and began to supplicate, `O Allah. Keep the promise You made me. O Allah. If this band of believers perishes, You will not be worshiped anymore.’ He kept beseeching Allah (swt) until his cloak slipped down. Abu Bakr put it back on his shoulders. Then he came up from the rear and said, `Enough, Messenger of Allah. May my parents be sacrificed for you. Allah (swt) will keep the word He gave you.’ And Allah (swt) revealed the words, `When you were beseeching your Lord…’” to the end (Ibn Jarir). The hadith is in Ahmed also (Ibn Kathir).

Imam Razi points out that the usage of the plural form in “when you were beseeching” is an indicator that just as the Prophet (saws) was beseeching his Lord, the rest of them were also doing so (although not from behind him, but separately, at their own times: Au.).

Rashid Rida comments: That day the Prophet (saws) also supplicated in words: “O My Lord. This is Quraysh. They have come with their horses, full with arrogance, challenging You and rejecting Your Messenger. O Lord. Send me the help You had promised.” (Manar)

25. According to reports in Abu Ya`la and Bazzar, declared trustworthy by Haythamiyy, a sign of the angels was powerful gusts of wind that accompanied their descent (Au.).

Some commentators have thought that although the angels did descend as promised by Allah (swt), they did not participate in the combat. None the less, a report originating from Ibn `Abbas says that Jibril and Mika’il were each at the head of 500 angels in front of the Muslim army. According to another report of Ibn `Abbas in Muslim, as one of the Muslims was hotly chasing a pagan, he heard the sound of a whip and that of a horse-rider from above saying, “Advance, O Hayzoom.” When he looked at the pagan again, he found him fallen with a deep green whip mark running across his face. The Ansari reported to the Prophet (saws). He told him, “You spoke the truth. That was the help from the third heaven.” So they killed 70 that day and captured 70 (Ibn Kathir).

The above hadith is in chapter titled, “Angels’ help” in Sahih Muslim (Au.).

[10] He granted that only as a good tiding and so that your hearts might be comforted thereby.26 Otherwise, help comes from Allah (alone). Surely, Allah is All-mighty, All-wise. 


26. Abu Sa`id (al-Khudri) used to say in his old-age when he had lost his eye sight: “Were I to be with you at Badr now, and were I not to be blind, I would show you the gorge from which the angels emerged” (Alusi).

[11] (Remember), When He was causing slumber to overcome you:27 as an assurance from Him, and He was sending down water from the heaven to cleanse you therewith, remove from you Satanic defilement,28 strengthen your hearts, and steady your feet therewith.29 


27. Imam Razi writes: Since one loses his sleep in moments of fear, Allah (swt) said: “When He caused slumber overcome you.” And the miracle consisted in so many being overcome by slumber at one time. Further, it remained a slumber. Had they slept off soundly, the enemy would have attacked them.

(No report from the Prophet about slumber at Badr seems to have come down, except that: Au.), Ibn Is-haq has recorded `Ali as saying, “We didn’t have a horseman amongst us except for Miqdad al-Aswad. And I didn’t see anyone amongst us but fast asleep, except for the Prophet (saws). He was under a tree – Praying and weeping – until it was morning.” (This also seems to be the situation of night: Au.). Nonetheless, it is reported in Sahih works that on the day of the battle, while the Prophet (saws) was in the temporary structure in the company of Abu Bakr, both in supplications, he was overtaken by slumber. He woke up smiling and said: “Be of good cheer, Abu Bakr. Here is Jibril on the mountain peaks.” Then he came out reciting Allah’s words (54: 45), “Soon the troops will be defeated and they will show their backs” (Ibn Kathir).

Ibn Mas`ud has said that slumber in the battle-field is from Allah (swt), while in the Prayers it is from Satan (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

28. Ibn `Abbas has said that when the Muslims arrived at Badr they found that the Quraysh had already taken possession of its wells. That disappointed them. In addition, the Quraysh seemed to enjoy strategic advantage. They were on an upper plateau while the Muslims were at a lower patch of land with a slippery sand under their feet. Moreover, they experienced wet dreams and were forced to Pray (on tayammum) because of shortage of water. (This was before the advice of Hubab b. al-Mundhir was accepted: Sayyid). On top of that, Satan came to them and began to plant doubts saying, `You believe you are Allah’s friends and that you have a Prophet among you. Do you? But, here you are, thirsty, and Praying in this unclean state.’ (Being unclean was especially worrisome to them because the commandments of tayammum were revealed three years later: Sayyid). As they got real disturbed over these issues, rains came down. They washed themselves, felt cleansed, watered their beasts and filled their buckets. (They also dug a quick pit in the earth and stored water: Razi). The rains also washed off the sands from under their feet, rendering it hard-crusted and firm for their feet once dry. (In contrast, the pagans were on a slimy ground. When it became wet, they began to slip on it: Razi). The allusion then, was to these issues when it was said: “He sent down water from the heaven to cleanse you therewith, remove from you Satanic defilement…” to the end of the verse (Ibn Jarir).

There are reports, however, that say that the Muslims were in control of some of the wells. Probably there were several wells spread over a wide area, with a few – those of the strategic locations – in the hands of the Quraysh, and some, in less strategic locations, in the hands of the Muslims. However, the wells couldn’t have had enough water for an army of three hundred to bathe with. From some other reports one gets the impression that the water was in a pond which the Muslims diverted toward themselves. The report in the next note is suggestive of that (Au.).

29. Umawiyy has reported in his “Maghazi” that one of the Companions, Hubab b. al-Mundhir, disagreed with the site chosen by the Prophet (saws) and recommended that if the choice was not dictated by Allah (swt), they should move away to a better site from where they could prevent the Quraysh from drawing water, and construct for themselves a cistern in the ground. At that an angel came down and told the Prophet (saws): “Allah (swt) sends you His Salam and says that Hubab’s suggestion is a good one.” At that, the Prophet (saws) turned to Jibril and asked him who that angel was. Jibril said, “Not every angel in the heavens do I know, O Muhammad” (Qurtubi and Ibn Kathir in parts).

Malik said that Jibril asked the Prophet (saws), “What do you think of those who participated in the battle of Badr?” The Prophet replied, “We think of them as the best of us.” Jibril said, “So do we.” (The hadith is in Ibn Majah and Ahmed: Au.). This is because, Qurtubi adds, the best of men are those who are best of deeds. The best of deeds is Jihad and the best of Jihad was that of Badr. It was the victory at Badr that laid the foundation stone for the Islamic State.

[12] When your Lord was revealing to the angels, `I am with you, so steady the believers.30 I will soon cast terror in the hearts of the unbelievers, so, smite them above the necks, and strike them over every joint.’31 


30. It is reported that some of the angels (appearing in human form: Au.) would speak to the Muslims telling them, “I have heard the pagans say that if the Muslims attacked them, probably they wouldn’t be able to withstand the onslaught, and might retreat in disorder.” The Muslims then would spread the word among themselves spreading reassurance along with it. This is the meaning of the words: “When your Lord revealed to the angels, `I am with you, so steady the believers’” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

31. Other interpretations would render the translation as: “So, smite them on their heads, and strike them on every side,” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir), or, alternatively, as Asad has done, “strike off every one of their finger-tips.”

Sayyid writes: We do not know much about the angels, except that they are Allah’s creations who execute His commands faithfully and meticulously. So, when He ordered them to strengthen the feet of the believers, they did that. When He ordered them to strike them on the heads and every joint, they did that. We don’t know how.

[13] That, because they contended with Allah and His Messenger. And whosoever contended with Allah and His Messenger, surely Allah is terrible in retribution.32 


32. Qurtubi quotes a little further up Muslim’s hadith which says that the Prophet (saws) left the pagan corpses unattended at Badr for three days. Then he went up to them and called out to them, “O Abu Jahal b. Hisham, O Umayyah b. Khalf, O `Utbah b. Rabi`ah, O Shaybah b. Rabi`ah, have you found your Lord’s promise to you true? I have found my Lord’s promise to me true.” `Umar said, “Messenger of Allah! How can they hear and reply when they have become decomposed corpses.” He said, “By Him in whose Hands is my life, you don’t hear me any better than they do, but they can’t reply.” Then he ordered that they be dragged and thrown into one of the pits of Badr.

[14] That (for you); taste it then. And (know) that for the unbelievers is the chastisement of the Fire.

[15] Believers! When you encounter the unbelievers in a thick array,33 never show your backs to them. 


33. The translation expresses one of the connotations of the textual word “zahaf.” Literally, it implies the act of an infant inching forward on its buttocks before it learns to stand up. The term has been employed here since the troops also inch forward slowly when in the combat field (Razi).

[16] Whoso showed his back to them that day, unless swinging back to fight again,34 or retreating to join another group, will surely return to Allah’s anger.35 His abode is in the Fire: an evil resort. 


34. Sa`id b. Jubayr has explained it as someone first penetrating deep into the enemy lines, then turning back speedily to withdraw one or more of their soldiers out of line, then turning again to attack him (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

35. Abu Musa, Abu Sa`id al-Khudri, Nafi`, Dahhak and Hasan al-Busri are all of the opinion that the threat of Allah’s anger on those who show their backs in the battle-field was specific to the battle of Badr, for that day there was no one to withdraw to, save the Prophet (saws). After him however, the same rule does not apply. Accordingly, we find `Umar (ra) commenting about Abu `Ubayd’s martyrdom in words, `I wish he had withdrawn to me, I was his rallying point (fi’ah).’ Abu Habib has gone so far as to say that the threat in this verse is not applicable to those who retreated during the Uhud or Hunayn battles. Ibn `Abbas however believed that the rule remains and, therefore, whoever fled from a battle-field without a good cause will face Allah’s anger. Ibn Jarir seconds this opinion.

Ibn Kathir and Qurtubi however report a hadith of Ahmed, Tirmidhi, Abu Da’ud and Ibn Majah with Tirmidhi declaring it of Hasan status which, narrated by Ibn `Umar, says: “I was in a campaign when the people ran away from the battle field. I was one of them. We said, `What shall we do now? We ran from the battle-field into Allah’s anger.’ Finally, we decided that when we enter Madinah we shall present ourselves to the Prophet (saws). If repentance is possible, well and good. Otherwise, we shall return. Accordingly, we presented ourselves to him before the dawn Prayers. When he came out he asked, `Who are you?’ We said, “We are the escapists.” He said, “Rather, you are the ones who retreated (to a safe point). I am your rallying point (fi’ah). I am the rallying point of the Muslims.” We went forward and kissed his hands.

Qurtubi and Alusi add: Most scholars are of the opinion that if the Muslims are half in numbers against their enemy, then retreat is forbidden. Or, alternatively, if they are 12,000 in number, they cannot retreat. This is in view of a hadith which says, “Twelve thousand will not be overcome because of numbers.”

[17] You didn’t slay them (O Muslims), rather, Allah slew them. And you didn’t throw (O Prophet), when you threw, rather, Allah threw.36 So that He might confer on the believers a goodly trial. Verily, Allah is All-hearing, All-knowing. 


36. Muhammad b. Ka`b al-Qurazi reported: “When the battle was about to begin, the Prophet (saws) tossed a handful of dust at the Quraysh saying, “Afouled be the faces.” It fell into everyone’s eye. The Prophet’s Companions fell upon them even as they were rubbing their eyes, killing them and capturing them. Their defeat then was caused by the Prophet’s throw” (Ibn Jarir). Hakim b. Hizam has a similar report in Ibn Abi Hatim, Tabrani and Ibn Marduwayh. Another report is in Tabrani, Abu al-Sheikh and Ibn Marduwayh as narrated by Ibn `Abbas (Shawkani).

It has been pointed out however, that none of the ahadith on the subject are in the six Sahih collections. Accordingly, we find some scholars saying that the allusion is to the Prophet throwing a short spear at Ubayy b. Khalf on the day of Uhud (Alusi).

Imam Razi points out that this verse supports the view that man acquires the deeds that flow out of him although they are Allah’s creation. (It did not deny human’s participation by saying: “You did not throw,” rather, confirmed his participation by adding: “When you threw.” And, finally, took the credit off him for its creation by saying: “Rather, Allah threw”: Au.).

After noting what Razi has to say, Alusi writes: I believe man has power and ability over his deeds that play their role (in the appearance of the consequences) – a power and ability that have been created and invested in him by Allah (swt), so that what He wills happens and what He doesn’t, does not. It cannot be said that he has no power over anything, as the Jabariyyah claim, nor that he has power, but one that is, by its nature, inactive, as the Ash`ariah say, nor would it be right to say that he has the power and ability to influence his deeds independent of the Allah’s Will, as the Mu`tazilah maintain.

(To be continued)

[18] That (for you); and Allah was to weaken the unbelievers’ scheming.

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